Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal) looked like he had “given up” on winning more Grand Tour stages before his explosive renaissance at the Giro d’Italia on Stage 8, according to Dan Lloyd on The Breakaway.
The Belgian returned to his breakaway throne with an outrageous win on Saturday, despite almost single-handedly keeping the leaders ahead of a chase group.
An exhilarating finale saw a front group of four slowly reeled in by a chase pack of five, which contained pre-stage favourites Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) and Biniam Girmay (Intermarche–Wanty–Gobert Materiaux).
Stage 8 highlights: De Gendt tees up his own victory as Van der Poel denied
But the leaders had a wildcard in old head De Gendt, who marshalled his inexperienced team-mate Harm Vanhoucke and novices Davide Gabburo (Bardiani–CSF–Faizane) and Jorge Arcas (Movistar) throughout.
De Gendt appeared to be riding to tee up team-mate Vanhoucke for victory, but they swapped roles in the final 3km, allowing the 35-year-old to power down the home straight for another memorable win from the breakaway – 10 years after his only other triumph at the Giro.
“I was working for Harm, [hoping] that he could attack on the [final] climb,” admitted De Gendt afterwards.
“But he said he didn’t have good legs any more so I said in the last 3km to Harm, ‘you ride full and I’m sure I will win the sprint, I’m sure’.
“He did it perfectly until 300m to go so I have to thank Harm a lot that he could pull this off for me.
“If you would have asked me two years ago if I was able to win a stage in the Giro, I would have said no because I was in such bad shape. And now the good legs are coming.”
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Stage 8 highlights: Van der Poel frustrated as De Gendt tees up his own win
Former star of The Breakaway Cherrie Pridham, now directeur sportif of Lotto Soudal, gave an emotional interview to Eurosport after the stage.
“With Thomas De Gendt and his experience, he just kept the young boys calm," she said.
"And we did it, it’s just what the team needed and now we can continue with great momentum.”
When asked what she had said to De Gendt over the team radio during the run-in, Pridham continued: “He was cool, calm and collected as you can imagine.
"He just said ‘I’m the fastest here’ so I had to believe in him.”
With Lotto Soudal’s sprinter, Caleb Ewan, still searching for his first victory in the 2022 Giro, it was a welcome boost for the team.
“Any day in a break, you’ve got to have a reckoning with him because he’s just so strong,” said Eurosport expert and 12-time Giro stage winner Robbie McEwen.
“Thomas the Tank Engine! We said he’s a diesel, but he’s a twin-turbo diesel. He’s got a really powerful sprint that not many people think about because he just seems to grind it out all day long.
“But what I loved was his commitment to the break and it looked when Mathieu van der Poel and Biniam Girmay were going to come back, it [the gap] got to nine seconds, but De Gendt went to the front and fended them off.
“If he hadn’t done that, they would have lost and the sprinters would have come back on them. He basically led himself out to the win. What a ride.”
'Thomas the Tank Engine!' - De Gendt lauded after Stage 8 win
De Gendt was once widely considered the greatest breakaway artist in the peloton but arrived at the Giro without a Grand Tour win since the 2019 Tour de France.
“In the years since then… De Gendt has said ‘things have just moved on, I’m not capable of doing what I used to do even though I’m putting out a similar amount of power, things have moved on in terms of how good everyone else is’,” said Lloyd.
“So I felt like he had kind of given up and it felt from that interview like he had kind of given up before the start of this race. So I’m just realised pleased for him.”
The Giro continues with the first five-star stage on Sunday, which features a double ascent of the imposing Blockhaus.
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Stream the Giro d'Italia live and on-demand on discovery+. You can also watch all the action live on eurosport.co.uk.
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